– written by Annee Griffiths
The Staying Mindful Five-day Retreat is a retreat with a difference. Our next one will take place 1-5 Oct 2018 at Trigonos in North Wales. Although it is held mainly in silence, its dual objective is both to deepen our experience of practice in retreat and also to discover ways to sustain our ongoing meditation practice. Subsequently, there are some teacher-led meditations with enquiry and some interactive sessions. These offer an opportunity to explore vital themes from the original eight-week mindfulness course. Questions arise during the retreat, such as: what motivates us to practise and what stops us from being present in our practice and in our lives? How may I cultivate a more self-compassionate approach to myself and any difficulties I face?
I attended many retreats before I did an eight-week Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction course, but this course showed me a new way ahead. It provided a skill-based, secular route that differed from my previous meditation work. Exploring my experience with others and through the enquiry method shed a new light on my practice. Teaching the eight-week course and also on the Foundation course of the Mindfulness-based Masters degree gave me further insights into personal practice. The themes explored week by week in the course are indeed a rough sketch of a map for mindfulness practice.
The eight week course is life-changing for so many people. But what then? Eight weeks is a short period in a longer life and, over time, these themes can be investigated more thoroughly as and when each becomes relevant to our practice and our lives.
The journey of mindfulness practice has signposts but no map. We are constantly challenged to realise our own way forward and fortunately we can meet up with other explorers who can guide us on our way. I am constantly surprised by the twists and turns I encounter on my own journey of personal meditation practice and teaching others mindfulness.
What is the Staying Mindful retreat?
To answer this question I need to go into the inspiration for the retreat. I meet many people who have finished a mindfulness course or gone on a retreat but who do not develop their practice. Although many people find that the course was a useful experience at the time, life is often busy and mindfulness as a practice can seem too difficult to fit into their lives. It becomes a lifeless chore or, at worst, a guilty omission: ‘I should practise mindfulness, but I don’t.’ Comments like this inspired me to set up a Staying Mindful six-week course to gather people together who wanted the support of a teacher and a group to re-start or enhance their meditation practice. It can be hard to keep a practice together on one’s own.
The course I developed has been very successful. Participants have discovered new aspects of mindfulness practice, rediscovered things that they had forgotten and gained fresh insights about their lives. I have adapted aspects of the course for a retreat setting. Here we have five days in a beautiful place with the space and silence necessary to deepen our practice. Surrounded by silence, we have several interactive sessions where the group has the opportunity to share and investigate our intentions for practice and our motivation to practise. Also, we look at hindrances within meditation practice and barriers to practising in our daily lives. Most pertinently, we investigate ways of working with difficulty and explore self-compassion, which so many of us need to cultivate in our dispassionate culture. As Christina Feldman says: ‘Acceptance is the forerunner of compassion and intimacy is the fore-runner of acceptance.’
The Staying Mindful retreat is an opportunity to become intimate with our experience in a safe space. We are held by the silence, by the group, by the teachers, Sarah Millband and me. We are held by the fabulous food and the caring nature of the Trigonos staff. We are held by the beauty of the valley with its lake and mountains, its greenery and wildlife. How wonderful to do this in the company of others sharing and learning from each others’ experience! Being nurtured, cultivating awareness of ourselves and our environment, are all part of this retreat.
The retreat is useful for anyone wishing to deepen their practice and also for teachers wanting to develop follow-on courses. The supportive nature of the retreat also makes it suitable for a first retreat.
Here is a poem written by a retreatant on our 2017 retreat:
Silence is Enough
by Vicki Thomas
17 people sit in silence
By a shimmering lake
And vast mountains in solid stillness
17 people walk very slowly in silence
Hearing the rushing brook, sensing foot touching earth.
17 people eat in silence
Tasting mouth-watering, home-grown food
Taking time to eat, the echoing sound of steel on plates
17 people sleep in silence
Gentle wind and rain on waking at night
17 people listen as the tinkling bell rings
Time to walk silently to the next cup of tea….
To hear the crunch of feet on gravel
The rustle of cloth as coats are removed
17 people lie in silence
To their soft, breathing bodies
Sensing their feet, their arms, their faces.
17 people stand silently in awe, one last evening
Watching as the full moon slides out in its silver glory
From behind the vast dark shape of the mountain.
17 people Being together for four long stretched-out days
Like the silent lake outside, connecting deeply..
No words are needed in these still waters.
Silence is enough.
Oh how the world needs this silence…..
Our next Staying Mindful Retreat: